REVIEW – Despite a somewhat slow start in Act 1 and also some technical difficulties during the show, Tuacahn’s “The Little Mermaid” won me over by the end. It wasn’t all smooth swimming for Ariel and her friends, but “Mermaid” is a production families will certainly enjoy.
“Mermaid” wasn’t perfect – I wish I could say it was. I’m not referring to the few technical delays that happened during the performance I attended – those things will happen, and I don’t count “stuff happens” hiccups against the overall production. I just wasn’t wowed by the show like I hoped I would be. The special effects and big ensemble numbers were, of course, as terrific as you would expect from a Tuacahn production, and by the time the classic “Under the Sea” song was in full swing I found myself smiling. But there were some elements that, for me, made “The Little Mermaid” good rather than great.
First, the highlights. For my money, Heidi Anderson absolutely stole the show in her reprised role as Ursula, having played the role in 2011 when Tuacahn first produced “The Little Mermaid.” Anderson was terrific – impeccable comic timing, incredible singing voice – just impressive and a consummate professional in every way. What a superb character actor she is. Absolutely flawless. She takes on this big villainess role and fills it impressively.
Ursula’s cohorts Flotsam and Jetsam, played respectively by Michael Milkanin and Matthew J. Vargo, were also flowingly flawless, turning in terrific performances as the oily villain sidekicks.
Matt Densky was an exceptional and loveable scene-stealer in the role of Scuttle. He was solidly anchored within his character from the word go and did such a magnificent, unwavering job. He was one of my favorites in the show.
Young Peyton Kemp was also endearing and very talented in the role of Flounder. He had a spunky and fun energy that made his character shine.
Venny Carranza was over-the-top in the best possible way as Chef Louis – his “Les Poissons” scene was one of the most entertaining in the entire show.
Many of the special effects were wowing and absolutely Broadway caliber, and the innovative ways in which the underwater characters were made to “swim” were impressive. The special effects, as always, were wonderful.
Special effects aren’t enough to make a show great, however, and I felt the technical aspects and the efforts of some of the stronger supporting characters carried the show – which, to me, took the overall production down a couple of notches because the total package just wasn’t there.
During intermission, I overheard a woman sitting near us say that you can’t expect to have performers who are both good singers and good actors. It isn’t true, of course (Anderson alone is proof of that); but it does call up an ongoing beef I’ve had with some of Tuacahn’s productions over the years. Quite often the lead performers – who are the most important components of any given show – seem to be cast primarily for their singing ability, and acting chops run a less important second or third. This has been especially true with some of Tuacahn’s leading females over the years. More than once I’ve been disappointed to encounter a lead female who undeniably has a beautiful singing voice but lacks the depth and charisma needed to not just fill a role but bring it to life.
And then there’s the plague of the “Minnie Mouse” voice – an unnaturally high-pitched treatment of the dialogue. This season’s Ariel was afflicted with that to an extent – though she was certainly not as chronically plagued with “Minnie voice” as some Tuacahn heroines of the past have been.
Since the show is called “The Little Mermaid,” to my mind Ariel needs to be the strongest, most shining and loveable character in the show. In essence, she should be able to carry the production almost entirely on her own, and any great performances from the other cast members are just icing on the cake. In short, it takes more than a red wig and a fish tail to make an Ariel. The lead actress in this production did an OK job; but, to me, she lacked the depth and “je ne sai quoi” needed to carry the show and be “the” Little Mermaid. This production’s Ariel came across as emotionally simplistic and a little ditzy. The character is a teenager, it’s true – but teenage girls have the broadest and most complex range of emotions of anybody on the planet. A character can be naïve without being one-dimensional. Tuacahn’s Ariel lacked the depth, energy, spirit and connection needed to really fill the iconic role and help lift the production to its highest heights.
As for the leading man, it took me until the second act to become accustomed to a Prince Eric who isn’t the dashing hero of the Disney cartoon. He was more of an awkward teenager reluctantly trying to fill his late father’s boots. I genuinely liked him by Act 2 – but he wasn’t what I was expecting. It was the charisma factor again. When the ship full of sailors first came onto the stage in the “Fathoms Below” number, it wasn’t immediately apparent which one was Prince Eric. The energy, magnetism and overall presence of the prince, the hero of the show, should have instantly made him stand out from the ensemble actors – but he didn’t. Even when he began speaking, it took me a couple of beats to decide: “OK, this must be Prince Eric.”
The bottom line for me with both Ariel and Eric was they did good jobs – but as the lead characters they should have done great jobs. The supporting characters overshadowed them at almost every turn. Again, in the second act Eric grew on me – he was just more of an awkward teen hero than a dashing Disney prince, and that took some getting used to.
A few of the lead characters didn’t really seem to settle in until Act 2. Sebastian, for instance, didn’t quite seem to relax into his role until that midpoint of the show. The actor playing Sebastian has a stellar singing voice, though – when the “Under the Sea” number hit the stage and he had his first chance to let loose vocally, I was more than a little impressed. I just felt that in Act 1, he wasn’t quite fluid with the Jamaican accent required for that character, so some of his dialogue was a bit rushed and some of the lines didn’t quite hit their mark.
Tuacahn’s productions always make a splash (no pun intended), but some of the essential characters in “Mermaid” failed to make those crucial emotional and intellectual connections that really make an audience go “Wow!” Production grandeur cannot substitute for character depth – it can only enhance what the actors bring to the table.
To sum it up, “The Little Mermaid” entertains, but all the parts don’t add up to greatness. Will audiences like it? Yes. Is it worth seeing? Yes. Will it go down in history as the greatest production you’ve ever seen? Probably not. But, overall, it was a fun show.
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